Norman King: The First Ever Aeta Graduate

Here in the Philippines, we have a lot of indigenous people living at the hardest-to-reach provinces. One of them are the Aetas.

The Aeta (Ayta, pronounced /ˈaɪtə/ EYE-tə), or Agta, are an indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of the island of Luzon, the Philippines.

These people are considered to be Negritos, whose skin ranges from dark to very dark brown, and possessing features such as a small stature and frame; hair of a curly to kinky texture and a higher frequency of naturally lighter colour (blondism) relative to the general population; small nose; and dark brown eyes. They are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines, preceding the Austronesian migrations.

The Aeta were included in the group of people "Negrito" during Spanish Era. Various Aeta groups in northern Luzon are known as Pugut or Pugot, an Ilocano term that also means "goblin" or "forest spirit", and is the colloquial term for people with darker complexions. These names are mostly considered inappropriate or derogatory by fellow Negritos of northern Luzon.

Because they live in the isolated mountainous parts of the country; food, news, technology and especially education have been denied to them until now.

But one of them have strived to put an end to this, or at least tried his best to make a difference. His history is about to unfold.

Meet Norman King.

He studied under scholarship with a course Bachelor of Arts, Major in Behavioral Sciences at the University of the Philippines, arguably one of the best university in the Philippines in terms of Academic Excellence. 

According to him, he had to adjust himself into a lot of things while studying. He also admitted that Math is not his strongest suit.

Norman King became the first Aeta of his tribe who, not just graduated, but with flying colors. He graduated Cum Laude and hopes to be a scientist one day.

Warlita King, his mother who worked as a janitress is so proud of what his son had accomplished. Indeed, his whole family and fellow Aeta tribesmen were very proud of King’s accomplishment as the first ever graduate from the aforementioned university.

Upon receiving his diploma, King brought his grandparents and his mother on stage with him. What’s more dramatic is, he wore the traditional Aeta loincloth (bahag) as he stepped on the stage for this very historic moment.

Photo courtesy from Axl Caesar Marcelo Ofrecio

“Kahit saang lupalop ng mundo, siya ang kauna-unahang Aeta na gumradweyt sa UP,” Anywhere in the world, he is the first ever Aeta who graduated; Tomas King, Norman’s grandfather said.

“Hindi lang ako ang umakyat du’n, parang kami nang lahat ng mga kapwa ko katutubo ang nag-represent du’n,” It’s not only me who stepped on that stage, it’s like the whole tribe is with me, King said.

King also admitted that there were a lot of times that he flunked Math, “Maraming adjustments, di ko kinakahiya na madalas ako bumagsak noon sa Math,”.

Photography seems to be Norman King’s other passion. He posted his pictures under the pseudonym Isagani Malaya. Most of his art is a reflection of culture and nature as his subject matter. His photographs are watermarked with baybayin script which means ‘malaya’ or free.

Norman dedicated his graduation to his fellow Aetas and hoped to represent his fellow tribesmen through his achievement.

“Ang una kong gagawin, mag-focus ako to help ‘yung community ko. Maybe gagawa ng isang book about history ng mga Aeta kasi wala mang documented,” The first thing I would do is to focus on how can I help our Aeta community. Maybe, I will write a book about our history as it is not documented; he said.

“Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible....”


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